Thursday, April 11, 2013

Wise and Good

The death of a polarizing and popular figure brings out all types. Cheerleaders and apologists charge out first, followed by the reactionaries and nonconformists. Then come the folks who didn't really have an opinion on the deceased, or at least one more nuanced than like or dislike, but now because they can quote their trusted pundits' opinions on the recently exanimated, brim with commentary. Then come the attacks from the Mencken-wannabes, followed of course by the finger-waggers, nihil nisi bonum and all. Next come the chief-justifiers who explain why in this instance it is acceptable to say such and such. Last of course arrive the measured reactions which few read.

Surely it's natural for everyone to have an opinion and not unreasonable that debate, heated and otherwise, ensue. What strikes me is that no one can wait. Even if one persists in expressing himself, must it be at the exact moment you find out the person died? In many cases the deceased had faded from public life many years ago. Whence comes his sudden relevance and what explains the renewed ferocity of the attacks and praise?

I recall myself, a number of years ago when a prominent politician died, growing indignant at what I perceived were his misdeeds. I was preparing to say something clever and excoriating when by good fortune I read the thoughts of none other than Mr. Northcutt. I was struck by the gentlemanly charity of his response: neither fuming nor fawning, but quietly hopeful for the deceased. This seems to me the most genteel and dignified reply to death. It's certainly what one might want for oneself, and more humane than using the dead in a mad clawing after self-satisfaction.

At such times one need not choose between tacit silence and bombast. One merely must be wise and good.

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